Tips for developing an open enrollment communications strategy
Issue: Your company will hold its annual open enrollment period in late November. There will be quite a few changes to your benefits program this year, especially with the health plans, and you want to make sure you communicate those changes effectively to employees. What are some tips for developing an open enrollment communication strategy?
Answer:     In response to continued double-digit health care cost increases, employers are preparing to communicate aggressive health care benefit changes to employees this enrollment season. But as employers are asking employees to change the way they choose and use health care, employers must be willing to rethink their strategies for communicating and driving that change.
Hewitt Associates offers the following 10 tips to employers developing their open enrollment communication strategies:
  1. Align your strategies. To achieve success, health care strategies must be designed to support business strategy, and the communication strategy must support both. Be prepared to explain, in simple terms, what's happening with health benefits and why from a broader business perspective.
  2. Engage managers and business leaders. It's critical to explain the changes, rationale and end goals of health care benefits to managers to get their buy-in. Remember that they are on the front lines of explaining and advocating these changes to employees.
  3. Expect noise. In previous enrollments, success was measured by the degree to which "noise"—questions, complaints and calls—could be minimized. This year, employers should not only expect noise, but welcome it. The level of change many employers are implementing will bring many comments and questions. If all is quiet, you haven't done your job.
  4. Don't sugarcoat. Be honest and direct when communicating changes, particularly when costs are increasing. Also, be clear with employees on the actions you want and need them to take.
  5. Give them the 5 C's. At a minimum, companies need to ensure their employees fully understand what Hewitt calls the “5 C's of Enrollment”—cost, coverage information, changes to plans, comparisons to the previous year's plans and current options, and “see” which doctors are in the plan.
  6. Communicate early and often. Remember that any change is a big deal, so employers need to develop and implement a strategy early that helps prepare employees for what's coming. Employees need time to digest this information, and employers need to reinforce it on a regular basis.
  7. Personalize. People relate much better to examples relevant to their situations than to abstract concepts. It helps to provide testimonials from other people in similar circumstances or to offer tools that allow employees to model and make decisions based on their own circumstances.
  8. Cut through the clutter. Think of creative ways to reach employees that differ from how you've communicated in the past. Hewitt's research shows that Web or print alone will not be effective. Instead, use a strategic combination of printed, Web and face-to-face communication at open enrollment to drive a consistent message.
  9. Remember enrollment is only half the equation. Open enrollment is the one time each year employers can be assured of a captive audience, so it's a great time to introduce new tools and resources that will help them be better health care consumers throughout the year.
  10. Avoid information overload. While it's important to communicate thoroughly and introduce new ideas, don't overload employees. Employers need to strike the right balance in what, how and when they communicate.

Source: Hewitt Associates, 100 Half Day Road, Lincolnshire, IL 60069.
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